Too slow, says CAPA

Below is a piece run in the Campus Review yesterday, reprinted here with their permission.

02 Aug 10 by John Ross 

There’s more danger than hope in this month’s election, according to the peak postgraduate body.

There are two big dangers on August 21, according to the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA).

One is that Labor could win the election, and continue to implement its reforms at a snail’s pace.

The other is that the Coalition could win and slow the reform process even further – maybe stop it completely.

CAPA’s assessment follows its review of the outcomes of 20 higher education and research-related inquiries conducted since early 2008.

These reviews yielded over 300 findings relevant to postgraduate students, CAPA found, with the government so far responding to less than a third of them.

National president Tammi Jonas stressed that CAPA didn’t back any particular party. But she said the best-case scenario for CAPA was a returned ALP government with the Greens holding balance of power “to help push for faster reform”.

“If they hold the balance we will see the student services and amenities fee finally go through, for example. That would be extremely welcome to students across the country.”

Jonas said a Labor government with Greens influence would also be more likely to commit funding to research workforce strategy recommendations, and to extend the duration of Australian Postgraduate Awards (APAs) to four years.

“It seems that the two major parties are unwilling to fund things,” Jonas said.

“We’re hopeful to see enough change in government to get the funding behind the will.”

Jonas said CAPA’s worst-case scenario would be a Liberal win with the Coalition holding the balance of power.

“Then not only wouldn’t we see the student services and amenities fee go through. We’d see a complete dismissal of the importance of higher education in Australia as we saw under Howard – an anti-intellectual climate that doesn’t value a knowledge economy.”

She said the “middle ground” scenario would be “a government that looks very similar to what we have now”.

Such a government would “continue at a pretty slow pace, but at least with some goodwill to start to improve what has been in decline for 15 years”.

CAPA said postgraduates had won some major reforms to scholarships and income support in 2008 and 2009, with the number of APAs doubling between 2008 and 2012 while they attracted better indexation and a 10 per cent increase in payment rates.

All masters by coursework students will also gain access to income support by 2012.

But CAPA said unfinished business for postgraduates included further reforms to scholarships and income support, implementation of a national research workforce strategy, new quality arrangements, evolution of the “third phase” of international education and research, and better student services and advocacy.

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A Loser on Twitter #alot

So one day I noticed that @rod3000, @thewetmale and @nomesmessenger were playing with a new hashtag #alot. It appeared to be an amusing way to emphasise just about anything, for example ‘I’m hungry #alot’ or ‘This government needs an enema #alot’. For the many spelling pedants out there, of which I’m one, it’s somewhat alarming, but many of us took up the challenge nonetheless. Watching some of the twitterati like @s_bridges come slowly on board made the game all the more fun.

Eventually, I learned that #alot means Australian Liberals On Twitter. Oh, right, so we weren’t just playing with good spellers… culture jamming a wingnut feed made the hashtag that much more amusing. If you look at the #alot page, you’ll quickly see it’s full of the sort of people who believe universal health care is a threat to freedom.

And so we continued with our game (many still do). A few weeks ago, a Twitter user who goes by the self-aggrandising (& politically repugnant) handle @MiltonFriedmans (yes, I’m aware the ‘s’ is superfluous, though I gather he isn’t), started retweeting me (& @rod3000 & presumably others) & re-hashing it to #KevinPM (I don’t even want to know what that page is). First though, he asked me whether there was a reason why we were spamming up their feed. I replied ‘yep’. He said he didn’t really mind, but could I please change my ‘disgusting’ avatar (it’s my legs in stripey socks, btw). I said, ‘lol, nope’. I figured that would be the end of our interactions.

How wrong I was. I can perfectly well understand a person objecting to others spamming a feed that is intended to be on topic (though there’s surely a thesis in what that means on the twitters), and to express this objection by doing his own spamming. Unfortunately, however, this belligerent individual chose to spam me directly through @s. There were a few over the last couple weeks which I mostly ignored, but last night he really went on the attack. It appears he has now had the belated wisdom to delete his stream of harassment, but I can see the @s on Tweetie on my iPhone. He @’d me 16 times in under 2 hours last night. What pearls of wisdom and high intellectual debate were these?

There were the personal attacks:

MiltonFriedmans: I’m assuming that between HECS debts, FEE-HELP and AUSTUDY, @Tammois shows leadership in the field of taking taxpayer money. #alot

MiltonFriedmans: @tammois would fit in well with Stalin & Kim Jong-Il! Http:// #alot

MiltonFriedmans: @tammois Only a lefty would assume challanging [sic] one’s logic 2B being “cyber bullied”. Most people explain their logic, not ask for help #alot

And then there was the false attribution RT:

MiltonFriedmans: RT@Tammois How can a 19yr old in their 1st degree, often living at home & having never had a career possibly//vote in a Fed election? #alot

If he’d had any wit, perhaps I would have bitten, though I suspect not. I don’t find that engaging with wingnuts in 140 characters is productive, nor generally remotely interesting. So instead I blocked him, as his badgering was tedious and badly spelt. This morning I glanced at his page to see whether he had laid off, only to discover he was carrying on still, mostly linking to my blog and ranting about VSU, as you can see.

I actually find this quite annoying still, though I’m choosing to ignore him and his 93 followers (none of whom have joined his attacks, happily, and one who asked him not to RT him in order to support his attacks on us).

I will respond briefly to what I think were actually some marginally interesting taunts about undergrads representing postgrads. First, it’s important to ignore the elision of voting with representing – not everybody is always eligible to run for office in pretty much any form of democracy of which I’m aware (eg age requirements, citizenship…). The rules applying to voters are typically different and more open, as they should be.

On the question of representation though, I’ve already spelled out my thoughts on the importance of separate and independent representation for undergrads, postgrads and internationals. Su made a great point in the comments about mature age undergrads, even though they are the minority, but I would still argue that it isn’t only about age (though that is a significant part of the issue of undergrads representing postgrads), it’s also about experience with the academic structures of postgraduate degrees, as well as the associated welfare issues specific to doing these degrees (income support, facilities and resources, etc).

So I happily stand by my claim that undergrads should not be representing postgrads. I also stand by my assertion that @MiltonFriedmans was bullying me with his incessant @ing and personal attacks. Culture jamming, in my opinion, which may include tactics such as spamming a hashtag, is not about individual, personal attacks. I guess us lefties can leave that nastiness to the ‘Classical Liberals’ over on the #alot page, which I’ve decided not to spam anymore, btw, in order to avoid provoking more bullying.